My son hasn’t always known he was black.
For the first seven years of his life, he primarily referred to people in shades of browns and tans and certainly didn’t know that being black could mark him as a target. That only happened when we moved to the United States in the summer of 2014, the summer of the killings of Eric Garner and Mike Brown and John Crawford. After an idyllic upbringing on a tropical island in the Caribbean, my son had all the uncertainty and excitement any 7-year-old third-culture kid would have in moving to his country of citizenship and living in a big city for the first time.
But uncertainty quickly overtook excitement as that horrible summer unfolded into a long season of black death perpetrated by police officers, culminating in the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice.
Fast-forward four years. My son recently turned 12. As much as I enjoyed celebrating this milestone with him, I couldn’t help but grieve for Samaria Rice, Tamir’s mother, who will never get to see Tamir as a teenager or young man. For the Rice family, all the firsts are over. What’s left is their memory of the lasts. His last hug, his last “I love you,” his last doctor’s appointment, his last field trip, his last birthday, his last funny moment, his last day on the playground with his toy gun.
When I look at my son with his red Adidas hoodie, his name-brand sneakers, his slightly baggy jeans, I see him as cute and cuddly, as he was as a toddler. But I know others may see him as a threat. My chest tightens with anxiety over his future. Will he have one, or will it be snuffed out, perhaps even by someone sworn to protect him?
There it is.
My fear on the table.
I’m sure I’m not alone. All of us experience fear in varying degrees and circumstances. All moms, I think, experience fear of one sort or another as it relates to their children. But moms of black American boys in particular live with the constant buzz of fear ringing in our ears. But what are we to do? How do I fight my fears with faith? As the mom of a black boy in America, how does God’s Word help me dispel my fears as I raise my son?
I have taken my fear to Psalm 119, and this is what the Lord has shown me.
Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant. Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight. (Ps. 119:76–77)
There is no mistaking the main actor in Psalm 119. References to God and his activity in the lives of his people abound. God works providentially in precise alignment with his Word. He does what he says, and one of the things he says to me and does for me—that gives me hope and silences my fear—is comfort. God promises to console us in our pains and afflictions and fears and sorrows. He comforts with reminders of his steadfast love, which never ceases and which even death cannot extinguish. His mercies are new every morning and attest to his faithfulness (Lam. 3:22–23). As long as his love continues, so will his comfort.
When I’m fearful about the world preying on my son, or fearful that what he wears or where he goes might get him killed, or fearful that he will be tragically misunderstood, I remember the love of God—perfect love that casts out my fear. I lay my anxieties and fears at his feet, and in his tender mercy he comforts me. I have learned how to pray with the psalmist: “Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life” (Ps. 119:49–50).
Let the insolent be put to shame, because they have wronged me with falsehood; as for me, I will meditate on your precepts. (Ps. 119:78)
It’s crazy to think of what swirls around in a fearful mind! I can let my fear take me down dark paths, into deep holes, around shadowy corners. To guard against this tendency, I’ve found that meditating on the Word of God refocuses my heart and mind on things that are true and honorable and just and pure and lovely and commendable (Phil. 4:8).
I have discovered that memorizing God’s Word aids meditation. Whether you memorize verses, passages, or entire books of the Bible, hiding his Word in your heart is a challenge worth taking up. Fear, after all, often arises in our hearts when our minds are idle. So we can put those moments to better use by meditating on portions of Scripture that we have memorized. We can find pockets of time to meditate on God’s Word as we’re preparing meals for our family, driving on the highway, taking a shower, standing in line at the bank, waiting for the doctor, or jogging in our neighborhood. We can redeem those idle moments by meditating on God’s Word.
It is striking that in the same breath as committing to meditate on God’s precepts, the psalmist also asks God to put the insolent to shame. Who are the insolent? They are the proud, presumptuous people who talk loud but say nothing. We see the insolent in our day on television or social media, and even in our churches. Their boasts about themselves are grandiose; their put-downs of others are juvenile. They skew statistics to confirm their biases. They love evil and leave truth. But God will handle them (Rom. 12:19). Instead of fretting over what someone may say or do or tweet, we’re free to set our hearts and minds on heavenly things rather than earthly things.
Remember, God is the main actor. He will enact justice. He will humble the proud. He will silence the foe. He will avenge the evildoer. He will comfort us as we meditate on his Word.
You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word. (Ps. 119:114)
I remember when I first taught Psalm 119:9 to my son. We were reading a children’s book based on this verse called The Squire and the Scroll. The story’s young squire embarked on a dangerous journey with his knight to find a special lantern stolen by an evil dragon. Returning this lantern would restore peace and joy to his homeland. The squire’s parents gave him a little scroll with rules the squire was to remember on his journey in order to keep his heart pure. Those rules saved the squire from real and present dangers on his journey.
As much as I would love to, I can’t stand in front of my son guarding him like Wonder Woman with my metal bracelets warding off the darts and arrows and shots and temptations of the world. However, God offers him protection through his Word. The Word reminds him to keep his way pure by guarding it according to the Word of God, and encourages him to seek the Lord with his whole heart and not wander from his commands (Ps. 119:9–10). There is eternal safety there, even if I can’t guarantee his safety here.
There is eternal safety there, even if I can’t guarantee his safety here.
The Word of God is a hiding place and shield for my son and for me. As the old hymn goes: “If I hold my peace and let the Lord fight my battles, Vict’ry, vic’try shall be mine.”
God calls me to stand firm in the faith, stand firm for justice, stand firm in the gospel, and trust him to keep and protect my heart as I hope in his word without fear.
Meditating on Scripture brings me comfort amid my fears and serves as my refuge as I stand for him and trust him with my son’s future. Wherever his future leads, I pray it would land him straight into the arms of Jesus, with an abiding faith that endures the hardships of this life and looks forward to eternity.
I have daughters too, and other fears for them. But raising an African American son in this country has driven me to both greater fear, and also deeper trust in the Lord, than I’ve known before. His Word spurs me on and gives me courage with this hope. To paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr.: I want to be there in love and in justice and in truth and in commitment to my son, and to the sons of others, so that we can make of this old world a new world.